Friday, May 24, 2024


This is a longer celebration of the life of Mary Frances Giltz. If you'd like to read her obituary, go to Mary Frances Giltz – 1929-2024


Mary Frances Giltz was born on February 1, 1929 in Toronto, the eldest of five children. Though arriving in the world just as the Great Depression began, she enjoyed a happy, carefree childhood. Her family were quiet trailblazers, becoming one of the first Catholics accepted as members at the exclusive Granite Club in Toronto, where Mary Frances enjoyed taking part in ice follies. 

On December 11, 1937, when Mary Frances was almost eight years old, her father woke her up very early in the morning, very early indeed even for her, a person who would rise before dawn most of her life. Together they listened on the radio to the coronation of George VI, the King of the United Kingdom and the Dominions of the British Commonwealth. (If you knew Mary Frances, you’ll understand why we don’t dare get the title wrong or casually and incorrectly say “King of England.”) 

King George was also the father of ten year old Elizabeth, now destined to reign herself. Mary Frances already felt a bond with the future Queen: on birthdays or Christmas, one of her gifts would invariably be a book about the Princess and her younger sister Margaret. (Mary Frances had a younger sister named Margaret, too!) She sang “God Save The King” for the 16 years of his reign and then starting in 1952, she sang “God Save The Queen” for the remarkable 70 year reign of Elizabeth II. Royal events such as funerals and the very rare coronations were touchstones throughout her life. When Charles and Diana were married, she invited friends over to watch the event, along with a proper British breakfast. 

While the death of Queen Elizabeth II was the sad end of an era, we had no doubt Mary Frances would live to witness it all: the historic lines of people paying their respects, the state funeral and then the coronation of King Charles III–she watched and soaked up every minute of it and then watched it all again in the months after, just as she recorded the Charles and Diana wedding on her VCR in 1981. Very few people in 2023 were alive–much less remember–both the coronation of George VI in 1936 and Charles III some 87 years later. Mary Frances was one of them, admiring and then wary and then admiring again of Diana, Princess of Wales; a fan of Catherine, Princess of Wales; not happy with Meghan, Duchess of Sussex (but more sympathetic after listening to the memoir Spare by Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex). And always, respecting the work and duty and faith of Elizabeth II. 

Mary Frances was only 7 (and we can mention that) but she would recall with pleasure being roused from sleep in pitch darkness and hearing George crowned King for the rest of her life. She surely talked with her fellow classmates about it. 

Mary Frances attended Loretto Abbey, a Catholic school in Toronto which included both boarders and day students like her. They wore uniforms (which she loved), impressive facilities like an indoor pool and were forever reminded they represented both the Abbey and Catholicism everywhere they went in Toronto, at a time when her faith was still viewed with suspicion and prejudice by many. Loretto Abbey was run by nuns and while they were formidable and Mary Frances could get in trouble, this amounted to minor transgressions like whispering briefly in the hall as she went from one class to another. Think Rosalind Russell as a nun in the film The Trouble With Angels, with Mary Frances as the student Hayley Mills. 

She certainly wasn’t a tomboy, but she did recall some daring moments, such as exploring a construction site and leaping from one beam to another on the second floor, wondering later in life why she didn’t fall and break her neck. And she loved everything about the school, which she attended throughout all of World War II. Mary Frances told with amusement of how they practiced air raid drills…in Toronto, where bombings of course never took place. But they trooped down to the basement and huddled in shelters of some sort, all the girls lined up on benches along the wall singing “There Will Always Be An England” and half hoping some bombs would fall and add to the excitement, much as the Queen Mother insisted she was glad when a bomb fell on Buckingham Palace because “it makes me feel I can look the East End in the face.” 

Mary Frances was always drawn to babies–any babies–and the arrival of her little sister when Mary Frances was 11 years old was a treat. Her very own baby to take care of? Nothing could be better. Perhaps Mary Frances yearned for a family of her own because of the model of her parents. They were both fun and creative people, with Frank a successful businessman and Mary a happy homemaker. Mary had rather eccentric ideas for the 1930s, such as healthy eating food (granola?) and exercising every day (yoga?) that proved way ahead of their time. She also decided treats like cake and pie were unhealthy and forbade the children to eat them, even at birthday parties. Mary Frances’s life-long love of Coca-Cola and candy and mint chocolate chip ice cream? Rebellion, pure and simple. 

Her mother had a knack for entering and winning contests, such as one for her eccentric–indeed, indecipherable–handwriting and another for a recipe she improvised on the spot and entered but never actually made. Her father won a brand new Chevrolet car (!) by coming up with a ten word slogan to sell it. (Sadly, the article documenting his prize-winning ways didn’t mention what that slogan was.) Life, you imagine from her stories, was never dull. Their talent for writing and fun would filter down to Mary Frances and her children in many ways. 

So unlike Hayley Mills in The Trouble With Angels, Mary Frances was not called to a religious life; her desire for a family was too strong. She wanted eight children (preferably including twins) and knew what she would name them, so being a nun was out of the question. Still, Loretto Abbey remained a touchstone all her life. Mary Frances would visit it as an adult, made certain all her children received a Catholic education just like her and became friends with people in religious orders everywhere she lived from early in her married life to the end of her days in Birmingham. She also made many friends at Loretto, especially Joan Moher. They both married men named Bill, they both had six children and they both either lived or had vacation homes in Florida for many decades. 

But before she graduated from Loretto Abbey–much less married and started a family–tragedy struck. Her father Frank died unexpectedly in 1945, just as the war was winding down. A widowed mother with several children who never worked a day in her life, Mary responded with aplomb. She had another idea way ahead of its time. Mary purchased advertising space in Toronto's Globe and Mail newspaper, but designed it as if it were a regular feature. She offered recommendations for shops and restaurants and the like, along with chatty comments about the day, comings and goings, the occasional light poetry and more. Advertisers were invited to pay for placement…but only if she approved of them. It proved a huge success, with the column Around The Town by Mary Walpole making her a fixture far and wide in Canada for decades to come. Similarly, Margaret (“Peggy”) Walpole would later become a nurse and then see a need to help women on the streets or coming out of prison and devote her life to Street Haven, a charity she founded. Her other sister Judith Lynn continues this tradition of helping others with her work as a therapist. 

When Mary Frances graduated on May 22, 1947, it happened to be the 100th anniversary of  the Loretto nuns. This meant the ceremony was held at St. Michael’s Cathedral and Cardinal McGuigan presided, an unheard of honor This was just the sort of pomp she loved and the Cardinal’s request that all graduates take the pledge and not drink alcohol until they turned 21? Not a problem. 

She went to work at a local Catholic school. Then with the same pluck as her mother and siblings, Mary Frances chose an adventure. She and family friend Kay McLean moved to New York City in the early 1950s and both took jobs at the Commodore Hotel on 42nd Street next to Grand Central Station. They lived on 71st Street off Central Park West–just steps away from where her son would live exactly 40 years later on West 70th Street. Legend has it Mary Frances was the first woman (or certainly one of the first) to work the front desk greeting visitors at the Commodore Hotel. (The Commodore is now known as the Hyatt Grand Central and for many years was the official hotel for umpires and tennis players competing at the US Open, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.) Her fluency in English, French and Spanish were likely key in securing the work.

It’s easy to imagine her competence and intelligence rising to the task. And it’s even easier to imagine what happened during her very first day on the job. She caught the eye of another employee named Bill Giltz. He asked her out that same day, she said yes and their first outing was a fancy one (the Stork Club? The 21 Club? Something nice.) She thought, this is good. (At roughly the same time, her friend Joan went on a first date with her Bill and he took her on a fancy date–probably to Ward’s Island in Toronto for dinner in a very nice car–and she too found that very promising indeed. Their lives really did mirror one another.) 

New York City was a life changer but it would never be her home. After savoring the work and dating Bill, they eventually became engaged and she returned to Toronto to prepare for the wedding. But a taste for adventure never left her. He secured a job at Goodyear as a salesman and they married in 1954.  (Her favorite wedding gift? An electric blanket, which had only been on sale for a few years at that time.) When the company asked him to move to Vancouver, she was thrilled, even by the cross country drive to get there. 

The children began to arrive in 1956, with David coming first and easily, just as everything connected to babies would prove to be. Her mother asked how she was doing after the labor and Mary Frances said just fine. Oh surely not, said her mother, who preferred to think of childbirth as fraught with danger and long periods of recovery. But each child arrived more quickly than the last. 

When she was pregnant with her fifth child Elizabeth, Mary Frances knew the birth was imminent and drove herself to the hospital. (Bill was away on business, having changed plans so he would be home the following week, when the baby was expected.) She pulled up to the emergency room, left the car out front with the keys in it, came inside and informed the nurse she was in labor. The bored woman–assuming she was dealing with a panicky and inexperienced new mother–asked casually if this was her first or second baby. “Fifth,” she said, “and it’s coming now,” which sent the nurse into a panic. That was the story of her life, baby-wise and health-wise. She instinctively knew how to care for newborns and children. And her health was always excellent. 

They had four children in all by the time the family was back in Toronto and Goodyear made another offer. Would he consider moving to Bermuda? Bill would travel back to the states and Canada about one week out of each month for business, but be based on the island. Now, they knew he would have to ask his wife and discuss–”Yes,” he said. “We’ll go!” No, no, they said, you have to talk to your wife. “Bermuda?” he said. “She’ll kill me if I don’t take it.” 

Mary Frances built a great life and made great friends wherever she lived. But there’s no doubt the seven years in Bermuda from March of 1962 to June of 1969 remained special. “It was heaven,” she’d say.

They had two more children there and life was perfect. The men wore Bermuda shorts and high socks and often stopped work in the late afternoon. Bermuda had a very colonial, British Empire feel to it, something that appealed to the Anglophile in her. The family rented a sprawling, lovely home with a private beach. She easily juggled six young children. (When the last child was born, they were 10, 8, 6, 4, 2 and a newborn, her own version of the rhythm method. She did worry that perhaps the final kid wouldn’t be as smart as all the others clearly were and might suffer for it, but he did alright and few noticed his lack, if any.) 

The kids were always well-mannered and beautifully dressed. And keep in mind, while Bill was–atypically for a man of that era–ready to change diapers and loved playing with and caring for the kids too, he was often away for work. Mary Frances never blinked an eye and her lifelong pattern of volunteering in the community and at their schools took firm hold. She also befriended the nuns who ran Mount Saint Agnes Academy, especially Sister Catherine Donelan (and her brother Father James Donelan of the Jesuits). They would be lifelong friends, with Fr. Jimmy establishing an esteemed business school in the Philippines, the same country where Mary Frances’ daughter Leslie would recruit nurses for her own company many years later. Mary Frances even named one of her children after Sr. Catherine, though you’d be hard-pressed to know which one. 

In Bermuda, she had the sun every day and six lovely children and friends like Sr. Catherine and the Summerfields and Mary Frances would run this and that committee and open a ball by dancing with the Governor and meet the Pope when his plane touched down briefly on the island to refuel and life was wonderful. 

Then Goodyear had another idea and it wasn’t so good: return to Toronto. After life in a tropical paradise, the cold winters of Canada really didn’t appeal. (Indeed, her children would find it hard to believe that a woman who thought anything below 80 degrees was shivery could really be from Toronto.) And so, another adventure. Instead of returning to Toronto, Bill quit his job, they moved to South Florida and he opened a new business selling carpets for homes and developments. Their link to Goodyear still had its perks over the years.

In 1969, the Giltz family sailed into South Florida on a cruise ship and moved right into a home in Pompano Beach, Florida on Seventh Avenue. Mary Frances did it again: she started a new life in a new town, made new friends and volunteered constantly at St. Coleman’s Catholic School (where they also attended mass) and Cardinal Gibbons High School. When her youngest went to first grade and no more babies were forthcoming, Mary Frances did the next best thing to getting pregnant again: she went to work in the newborn nursery at Holy Cross Hospital. That satisfied her for a few years, though they wouldn’t let her take any of the babies home at night.

Their friends were many, especially Connie and Pete Brandt, who semi-adopted Patricia and the Wilsons, who out-Catholic’d Mary Frances by having eleven children. The Wilsons semi-adopted Elizabeth, though it’s not clear if they ever quite noticed the extra kid at dinner or on family trips. Trips to Canada to visit family and visits from her mother and sisters were also a constant.

Her children flourished and were in school and growing up. Some headed off to college all too soon (especially since they skipped a grade or two, though not the youngest). Yes, South Florida was dependably hot and she was active and busy. But what was life without babies and little children to carpool here and there? Who was Mary Frances without children to raise?

Then came tennis. It would change her life. 

Mary Frances took lessons at Wilton Manors from Norma Campbell and joined a “ladder,” where women of similar skill played one another. She made more lifelong friends, like Norma and Sue Price and Carlotta Stevens. Eventually, the entire family took up tennis (even contrary Chris, long a holdout). Funnily enough, she only played tennis for a few brief years, even though the rest of the family played it all their lives, with Bill and the kids sometimes getting up at 5 am on weekday mornings to play for an hour or two under the lights before heading back home to shower and change and head to school. 

But tennis brought her to the Holiday Park tennis center, where Jimmy Evert was the head coach and father of Chris Evert, already a sensation after turning pro in 1972. Mary Frances became friendly with him and especially his wife Colette, also a devout Catholic. 

One day a tennis tournament for kids was taking place and they were short of people to oversee the matches. Most matches wouldn’t have any oversight; the kids called their own lines and kept score. But if a problem arose, someone might be sent out to settle the dispute and keep an eye on things. Jimmy Evert asked Mary Frances if she’d mind heading out to a certain court and stepping in if the need arose. She didn’t mind at all. 

It was as if everything prepared Mary Frances for this moment. She knew the rules of tennis, even if she’d never read an official rulebook. She exuded calm and professionalism, she was instinctively fair, she was smart and more importantly she had common sense. If something unexpected happened (and in tennis, it would), she did what seemed right and the players trusted her. And she most certainly knew how to deal with kids. She wasn’t intimidating or scary; that wasn’t her style. But you knew she meant business. 

The match went smoothly and then Jimmy asked her to do it again. Professional tennis umpires took note. She should go to umpire school, they said, get real training; she was a natural! So she did and Mary Frances became an official linesperson at professional tennis tournaments in South Florida, featuring some of the top players in the world. It was just the start. 

For the next three decades, Mary Frances did almost everything you could as an umpire. She called lines and eventually she graduated to chairing matches as well. She took it seriously but it was also great fun. Working a line on an outer court during the qualifying rounds was just as important a duty to her as being on the main court with the biggest crowd cheering a top player. She did what she was asked and did it happily, unlike some umpires who always tried to angle their way onto the “big” matches. That attitude garnered her more respect and more work at more tournaments. The 12-and-unders, the top women’s tour (then called the Virginia Slims, after its cigarette sponsor), tournaments for people in wheelchairs, kids playing their first match in a tournament at Holiday Park or Virginia Wade and Billie Jean King facing off at the Sportatorium and competing for serious prize money? Mary Frances loved it all. And you knew she did, because this woman who preferred to be in bed by 7 pm (with a Coke by her side) found herself sometimes working on a match until after midnight (though still with a Coke by her side). 

It became a career in every sense. Mary Frances rose through the ranks and–of course–volunteered to do more work for the tennis umpires and the USTA overall at the state level. She made too many friends to mention, though people like Nancy Horowitz and Lynne Salus and the late Dora Castori remained close to her for the rest of her life, even after she retired. She worked every tournament possible in South Florida. 

Then she made it to the Show: the Grand Slams. Thanks to her being a Canadian, Mary Frances enjoyed an unexpected advantage. Major tournaments around the world accept a certain number of umpires from other countries to come work, in return for those countries returning the favor for their umpires. Thus, while the US Open would include mostly Americans as lines-people and chair umpires, they also included a percentage of them from  Great Britain, France, Australia, Japan and other countries where tennis was popular. Since Canada had very few tennis umpires and even fewer looking to travel, Mary Frances quickly found herself accepted to work at Wimbledon, the tournament she–and most tennis fans–consider the pinnacle of the game. This too was just the start. 

Friends of her children knew when Mary Frances left for Europe in the summer to work as an umpire: the minute her car was headed to the airport, the windows were shut and the air conditioning was turned on. It wouldn’t be turned off again until the day she returned. 

For years, Mary Frances worked a warm-up tournament in Eastbourne and then Wimbledon. Then she added the French Open, the US Open and finally the Australian Open to complete her own career slam as an umpire, something quite uncommon back then. She worked a tournament in Japan, where the women umpires asked her to give a talk on women and umpiring. (She loved the experience, though worried endlessly they would serve her sushi.) Then she began helping to run tournaments, from doing the draw to organizing all the umpires for every match to checking in the players and sending them off to their assigned courts and ruling on issues large and small. For a woman who loved notebooks and making schedules and plotting out things, this was heaven. Mary Frances was the referee of a major tournament then called the Lipton and now known as the Miami Open, often called the fifth Slam for the level of players who competed at it and the prize money they earned. 

For many years, she also ran the Orange Bowl as referee, alongside her friend Nancy Horowitz as the chief umpire. It's best thought of as the Olympics for junior tennis players. The highest ranking young men and women from all over the world came to compete, including the talent soon to become the top stars of the modern era. Speaking several languages certainly helped, as did her no-nonsense but fair approach to every situation. Essentially, for many years, the best players in the world met Mary Frances when they were a kid competing in the Orange Bowl, then met her again on tour and then met her again if they made it to a Grand Slam. 

She really was on that match with John McEnroe where he famously exploded with, “You cannot be serious!” (But no, she didn’t make the call he was furious about.) She was a USTA Florida volunteer for more than 20 years, named Official of the Year, inducted into the Florida Tennis Association Hall of Fame and received the FTA Merit Award (the highest honor a volunteer can achieve), among other honors. More importantly, tennis umpiring gave her a wide circle of friends, wonderful memories, challenges she invariably met and the satisfaction of being very, very good at her work. The lackadaisical umpiring at some levels of the early 1970s which infuriated McEnroe slowly went away as tennis became bigger, the stakes grew higher and the umpires aggressively raised the professionalism of everyone involved at every level. Mary Frances was a prime example of this transformation. 

She loved the world of umpiring, serving on various committees and in various positions of power. At annual meetings, she helped organize variety shows, writing skits for herself and others to act in, routines about dealing with pushy parents and troublesome players, the sort of things they could never say in public but kept them roaring with laughter behind closed doors. It was her mother’s creativity coming out in her, including a gift for humorous poems she wrote for every occasion. When different people gave their annual reports, Mary Frances soon found herself always going last. Her summaries of the year were too entertaining, too well done. No one could follow her.  

Her friendship with Colette Evert endured. In London every year for Wimbledon, they would go to the West End and see theater. Colette’s daughter Chrissie was naturally offered tickets to every show in town but too busy winning matches. So Colette and Mary Frances enjoyed more than a decade of seeing every big spectacle, from The Phantom of the Opera to Les Misérables. Back in the US, they would go see a movie together on Friday afternoons, sometimes joined by Sue Price. Those were two of the close friends who joined Mary Frances early one morning to watch the wedding of Charles and Diana. Friends like them and the world of tennis gave her life scope and meaning, even as her children grew up, went to college and settled down seemingly everywhere but South Florida: Vermont, New York City, Allentown in Pennsylvania, Hilton Head in South Carolina, Birmingham and even London. 

She loved her work in tennis, but the siren call of grandchildren proved too great. By the year 2000, two of her daughters lived in Birmingham, with five grandchildren between them, more grandkids in one spot than anywhere else. Mary Frances was still a major player in the world of umpiring, even at 71. But the desire to be present in the lives of her grandkids and the good sense to stop while still on top won out. As hard as it was, she retired from tennis and moved to Birmingham, leaving behind the many friends she’d made over more than 30 years. 

The grandchildren made it worth it. They now had Poppy (their name for Bill) and Mimi (their name for Mary Frances) as part of their lives, with visits to the other kids in Allentown, Pennsylvania being raised by Christopher (though those visits were never as often as she would want). She joined St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church and while Mary Frances insisted she really was past the stage of starting over and she really wasn’t going to volunteer and make more friends, that’s precisely what she did. 

For 24 years she did it all at St Francis: she played bingo and bunco with Marty and Anne and Helene, she knitted in the knitting club, she stuffed envelopes, she brought communion and prayer and friendship to the homebound, she volunteered to work at the monthly Senior Lunch and Parish Dinners (ably serving people much younger than her), she met and discussed her faith at Women’s Fellowship led by her new friend Marianne Sharbel, she worked the register at the annual bazaar, she taught English as a second language to fellow parishioners, she worked on the funeral committee and jealously guarded her job of running the dishwasher and on and on. Inevitably, she also befriended the nuns and priests of the parish, especially Sr. Sara Burress, who Mary Frances decided worked too hard and needed to have some fun and so insisted Sara join her for lunch once a week. (Mary Frances had fun at those lunches, too, it must be admitted.) 

Of course, she also went to morning mass and that meant joining the “Breakfast Club.” This was an informal gathering of people after the weekday 8 am service, which grew sometimes to include almost 20 people. Over the years they met at McDonald’s and then Hardee’s and finally Jack’s. The priest might join them or sometimes the late Bishop Foley (he and Mary Frances almost shared a birthday) but it was really about this group of church goers. These people became her fast friends, people who shared their lives with her, celebrated birthdays together, accepted her invitation to see Downton Abbey: The Movie and later its sequel (with a proper English tea beforehand, of course) and day trips to visit priests they liked who moved on to other parishes and trips overseas to the Holy Land and Rome and more. People at Breakfast Club like Diane Schellaci, Jo Ann Garrett, Rudy Rose, Cathy and Pete Sellers, Weesee Connery (who provided a much-needed refuge during the pandemic with her outdoor porch), Blandine Alvey (who fell in love a second time with a fellow Breakfast Club member) and sometimes Marianne and her husband Paul and Kathy Tucker and so many others over the years. 

After her children and grandchildren, this was the beating heart of her life in Birmingham. They sustained her with their love and friendship and faith for many years. 

Mary Frances always loved movies, catching revivals of classic Hollywood films at the Olde Tyme Movie House in South Florida (before the days of cable TV and VCRS) and staying on top of new releases with Colette and Sue. Katherine Hepburn was an especial favorite. 

She also loved the theater. As a child, she would see many of the shows playing in Toronto on their way to Broadway. As an adult, she went to  London most every year (visiting her daughter Leslie, long after her tennis days were over) and invariably caught several shows. During her life, she saw everything from My Fair Lady with Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison and the original production of South Pacific in 1949 to the acclaimed revival of South Pacific back on Broadway 60 years later in 2008. If you want to imagine what Mary Frances was like, a combination of Katherine Hepburn and Julie Andrews feels about right – no nonsense, but charming.

She taught all her children to read and practiced what she preached by reading voraciously most of her life. She switched to audiobooks towards the end, especially the Irish Country novels by Patrick Taylor as read by actor John Keating. Since one of the first books she ever received as a gift was about then-Princess Elizabeth, it’s fitting that the last work she listened to on audiobook was the biography George VI and Elizabeth: The Marriage That Saved The Monarchy by Sally Bedell Smith, the story of Elizabeth’s parents. 

She caught the craze for genealogy after the miniseries Roots proved a sensation and spent many years researching her family tree, especially enjoying the links to Sir Robert Walpole (the first Prime Minister of England), the writer Hugh Walpole (who wrote the first Gothic novel, The Castle), Irish roots to the Scanlons of County Kerry and the clan Cameron, including Sir Ewen Cameron of Lochiel, one of the leaders of the Glorious Revolution (to put a Catholic back on the British throne) and immortalized by Sir Walter Scott. This meant her children endured long tramps through any cemetery that looked ancient enough to be interesting.

She enjoyed all things British, including TV, from the original Upstairs, Downstairs to Agatha Christie to Call The Midwives, a British series set in the 1950s about nuns and babies, which might as well have been designed in a lab specifically to appeal to her. And above all Downton Abbey, a show she watched on a loop in her final years, a comfort to her as she fell asleep at night during the last months of her life. The news that another Downton Abbey movie is being filmed and will come out in 2025 delighted her. If anything could keep her going for another year, that would have been it. She knew how to make a proper pot of tea and would gladly instruct you, given the chance.

We've only scratched the surface. She was funny, she enjoyed singing in the church choir, she was kind, she liked things done properly, she was dependable, she was uncomplaining, she was indomitable, she was “practically perfect” with babies (just like Mary Poppins), she was smart, she was sweet, she liked dressing up, she was strong, she was gentle, she loved mashed potatoes and bacon and for a while it seemed she might live forever on them alone, she was unfussy, she was elegant, she was generous, she was loved and she will be missed.